I live in the capitol city of a smallish southern state, though it doesn’t feel like it. Our airport is tiny, our city is large, but it doesn’t feel that way at all, the only attraction here is our Zoo, and a few historical sites, as far as I know (and I’ve lived here since I was about four years old). That being said, we’re still a capitol city, so I would think–and perhaps I’m wrong–that we set a good deal of the trends for the rest of the state. Especially economically.
Last year around this time, there were three secular book stores and two Christian book stores in our area within decent driving distance (25 mins away at the most). This year there is one used book store (no new releases, just re-homed titles and dvds), the two Christian stores, and one secular bookstore that’s the farthest one away. There are others but they are 30-40 minutes away with no traffic–and there usually is traffic.
Very few agree with me on this, but my strong opinion is that the swift decline of book stores is caused by the oncoming storm of ebooks, e-readers, iPads, and other electronic devices that are being used to read “books”. Now to me, a book is a paper object with pages you have to turn by hand, it smells unique, feels fantastic, even has a marvelous sound when you flip from one chapter to the next, a sound filled with mystery and intrigue. There is something magical about going to a book store just to explore and finding a new adventure you didn’t expect.
The college I was taking classes at recently built a newfangled automatic book retrieving library. You go to a computer, look up the topic you want, and can request the title you want. Then a robotic system goes down to the isle, pulls your book, and drops it back to you. Now when I’m in a library, it’s the size, color, title, texture, age, and quality of the book that attracts me and makes me slide it off it’s dusty shelf and crack the cover. I’m drawn to older, worn out, slightly tattered books. Well loved books. Books that traveled far. After building this hi-tech library, they were shocked how rarely it was used. And I think this is why. Millions of dollars on all this tech and the students hangout and the coffee shop in the lobby and don’t venture into the library part much. I think many people, if mostly subconsciously, feel the same way about book discovery as I do. People may read more with their ebooks and iPads, but they miss out on the discovery of that book they never would have thought to pick up until it showed it’s spine right there before them on the shelf.
Eventually, there will be almost no books being printed, just released in electronic media. This is a scary thing. When it’s not down on paper, it can be much more easily tampered with, altered, redefined and mangled. All it takes is one person with ill intent being put in charge of a process of epublishing, and you risk having your work changed, stolen, or distorted. History is already being altered with paper books, but imagine the total destruction that can be done when all that’s needed is a few clicks and an “Apply to all copies” feature? You get a pop up on your iPad: “iBooks has a software update, install now?” and with one click your history book has been changed.
Now, I’m not against technology. I have my iPod touch, my Macbook, and I greatly enjoy them both. But power corrupts. And when you give already corrupt people the power of the written word, you spread that corruption. A deadly virus in the veins of humanity.
I don’t own any ebooks or ereaders, I do own one online copy of a book that was never released in hard copy, but that’s it. And as far as I’m concerned, it’s one too many. I greatly miss my bookstores, and I pray my library will not be too heavily effected…